Eastern Scales, Relative Minor, and The Educated Guess

Fellow Theory Geeks,

Even among some good musicians, music theory is occasionally regarded as more of a “nice to know” thing.  Interesting place to visit, but they don’t want to hang around too long.

By contrast, I am shameless enough – dare I say, proud enough – to put forth that I am a music theory GEEK. I like staying “all up in theory land,” and often.

Music theory teaches us WHAT works, and also what CAN WORK.  And, if it AIN’T WORKING, it’s usually easier to know WHY, because you possess a systematic command of how rhythm, melody, and harmony work together.

Notice I put rhythm first. Too often neglected — but I put it first in my musical thinking. More on that in other posts.

OK…If you’ve read this far, I guess we have a quorum! Two geeks is always a quorum in my experience. Partly because it’s so hard to find a third geek, on short notice. Anyway welcome, can I get you some coffee? Orange Julius?*

*My Orange Julius offer is from the first Blues Brothers movie.

I’m sharing a dialog below between a YouTube viewer and me.  NOTE: I’m not extremely active on YouTube: This website (Piano with Kent) is the best source for all my teaching stuff.

CAVEAT: I’m only venturing an educated guess with my final answer to this one (youtube viewers were told that fact in my reply). The “query in question” is specific to a certain Hindustani raga scale. I had to do some additional research on that scale and its cousins before answering this one.

Even if you don’t care about the scale above, I’m also sharing this because it may help people re scales in general.

YouTube Dialog

Chandravadan Bachhav
VIEWER  6 months ago
how to play Shiva-Ranjini with its relative scale?
Kent D Smith
Kent D Smith  6 months ago
 Hi there, are you referring to the Hindustani raga scale, called Shivaranjani?
Chandravadan Bachhav
VIEWER  6 months ago
Piano with Kent yes sir
Kent D Smith
Kent D Smith  6 months ago
Ok, so I can only answer in terms of general music theory in “Western” (European) terms. (I would be reckless and very presumptuous if I were to try to speak with “authority” in the area of Hindstani raga scales!) So, the concept of a relative minor in Western theory is that any given major scale shares the same pitches with its “relative minor” scale. For example, C major is comprised of CDEFGAB(C). And A minor (specifically “A natural minor”) uses the same pitches, although the ROOT in that case is A. So A natural minor is ABCDEFG(A). As a result, “C major” and “A minor” have the same key signature (in European standard notation). The same idea applies to all the MODES of the major scale. If you start on a different root other than C and play each successive pitch up (or down) to the next occurrence of that root, then you have played one of the MODES of C major. So for example, DEFGABC(D) is called the Dorian mode of C major. So this brings us to your scale in question. Which I think, starting on C, would be C,D,Eb, G,A,Bb,(C). Using the concept of modes, I suppose one could play the various “modes” of this scale simply by choosing a different starting note (for example Bb, C, D,Eb, G, A, (Bb). This starting note is the new chosen root, or, in Hindustani raga, maybe called the shadjam? Since, to me, the one I described starting on C has a Dorian sound to my Western ear, I might suggest that its “relative major” is the one I spelled out starting on B-flat. So I can only suggest that any “Eastern” scale which can be accurately played on a piano keyboard will have several of its modes created by choosing a different pitch as the “root” or shadjam. Again, I am no expert in the area of “Eastern” scales. In fact, I am only speculating here (as regards the raga scale), based on what little I know. 

That’s it. There’s some time you’ll never get back. Theory geeking is an indulgence so thanks for hanging in!



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